Pincay on the 1986 Breeders' Cup: No holding back Skywalker

By Mike Willman/Santa Anita Park
October 20, 2019 08:50am
Pincay on the 1986 Breeders' Cup: No holding back Skywalker
Photo: Courtesy of Santa Anita Park

It’s often said that pace makes the race, but in the 1986 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, legendary Hall of Famer Laffit Pincay Jr., aboard Skywalker, ignored the clock and made the critical decision that resulted in a stirring 1 ¼-length win over 8-5 favorite Turkoman, who was ridden by Pat Day.  

With the Jack Van Berg-trained Herat carving out fast early fractions (22.60, 46 flat and 1:10.20) with Jerry Bailey up, Pincay and Skywalker were just a half length off the lead at the half mile pole, with the late running Turkoman seemingly in the garden spot while eighth in a field of 11 in the first Classic ever run at Santa Anita.  

“I’ll tell you what really helped me win that race,” said Pincay on Friday.  “The day of the race the trainer, Mike Whittingham, told me, ‘Listen, when this horse wants to run, if you’re close to the pace and he wants to run, don’t hold him. If he decides to run, don’t hold him, you just go with him,’ and that helped me a lot, believe me.   

“My horse, he was tough, he just kept on going. The Classic that year was a tough race, a  very  tough race, but I always thought I had a chance.  Precisionist and Turkoman were in there and they were top horses.  My horse was well bred and you know, with some horses, you don’t think you have a chance today, but with Skywalker, I really thought I could win.  Late in the race, those other horses were flying at him, but Skywalker was so tough, he just kept trying.” 

 

Pincay, who at age 39 had already been leading rider in America by money won seven times, had won five Eclipse Awards as Champion Jockey and had been a member of the Hall of Fame for 11 years, was nonetheless ecstatic at winning his first (and what turned out to be only) Breeders’ Cup Classic.  

“The Classic is a race that every jockey wants to win,” he said. “There’s so much prestige and it was especially nice because the owners (Mr. and Mrs. Thomas P. Tatham who raced as Oak Cliff Stable and were also the breeders of the legendary Sunday Silence) were really, really close friends.

"They were such good people and they used to take my son (Laffit III) all over. They took him everywhere and he had such a good time with them. Winning the Classic for them was the icing on the cake. They meant so much to me at that time in my life.”  

Off at 10-1, Skywalker, who was foaled in Kentucky on March 4, 1982, got the interior mile in 1:34.60 and the mile and one quarter in 2:00.40, paid $22.20 to win. With $3 million in purse money up for grabs, he collected a winner’s check of $1,350,000.

                    

Additionally, Pincay noted that in his view, the primary reason he initially ended up on the dark bay or brown colt by Relaunch out of the Boldnesian mare Bold Captive, was that he had beaten Skywalker in the 1985 San Felipe Handicap (Grade II) at Santa Anita.  

“I remember they flew Pat Day in to ride Skywalker in the San Felipe (run on March 17, 1985) and I was on a horse (Image of Greatness, owned by George Steinbrenner) for Wayne Lukas that I really didn’t think had much of a chance,” he said. “We beat Skywalker by a nose and because of that, I got the mount for the Santa Anita Derby (which Skywalker won by a nose).”  

With this year’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic set for Nov. 2, it will mark the 10th time America’s most prestigious race for three year olds and up will be run at The Great Race Place.  Needless to say, expectations are again running very, very high.   

So, does the legendary Pincay, once affectionately known as “The Pirate,” believe Skywalker could’ve beaten the world’s best in 2019?  

“Definitely. All you have to do is let him go.”

 

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